Sunday, March 31, 2013

Unholy

I'm very well aquainted with the seven deadly sins
I keep a busy schedule trying to fit them in

—"Mr. Bad Example" by Warren Zevon
Last night I was thinking about Lent. During a time when the Roman Catholic Church encourages people to be more mindful of God and deprive themselves (no meat on Fridays, giving up something for Lent), I was exploring the seven deadly sins. Especially gluttony. Big heaping platefuls of gluttony. The dearth of book reviews here shows I've been practicing sloth as well.*

UPDATED 04/01/2013: Someone asked me what I gave up this year for Lent. I said, "Self-restraint."


* Reviews that I should have written in February (about relationships) don't count. And though I've been slothful in writing about March's books (about religion), I haven't been as slothful in reading them. Then again, I only finished six books and gave up on a seventh, which is way below average for me.

Friday, March 29, 2013

"The Beauty of Bicycling"

Check out this great collection of bicycling photos from around the world. There's even one from Chicago.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Nobody Tells You About LED Bulbs

There's no way I'd pay $30 for a light bulb, but now I am finally seeing some reasonable prices for LED bulbs. This week Menards has a 7.5-watt 500-lumen LED bulb for only $6.99 (after store-wide rebate). That's equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent so it isn't bright enough to use everywhere (most of my bulbs are 60-watt equivalent CFLs), but I can replace a few CFLs with the more efficient LEDs, especially in multi-bulb fixtures.

I installed the bulbs in our living room ceiling fan. CFLs were a pain in the ass because the bulbs are exposed and it was hard to maintain four matching bulbs (I used enclosed CFLs for appearance, and they tend to burn out a lot faster than bare tubes).

With these new LED bulbs I won't have to worry about that. The bulbs have an estimated life of 25,000 hours, which works out to 22.8 years using their average of three hours usage per day. We don't use the living room three hours a day; several nights per week we don't use that room at all.* So that means our bulbs could last even longer, maybe even 30 years.**

And that brings up the thing nobody tells you about LED light bulbs.

I'm 42 years old. Although thus far I've been much healthier than I deserve to be based on how I live, there is a reasonable chance that these LED light bulbs will shine longer than I will.

I never dreamed I would be pondering my own mortality while changing a light bulb!


* Of course, that means we won't see a lot of savings on our electrical bill, but as I mentioned, I also had aesthetic reasons for installing them.

** Now that I've said that, they will probably fail within a few months.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My Sixth Continent!

It took the random selection of my website for a search engine evaluator test, but I finally got my first visitors from Africa this month. I missed the exact dates and locations amid the deluge of hits, but I've had one visitor from Nigeria and four visitors from Egypt (including Cairo yesterday morning, recent enough that it hasn't scrolled off my MapLoco logs yet).

Incredibly, the second most popular country behind the United States (albeit far, far behind) is Turkey! Turkey is followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, and Croatia. It's been fun to see so many different flags on Feedjit this month. I have also enjoyed the responses to my blog post inquiring about the flood as well as a couple of personal e-mails from visitors.

I'm still waiting for Antarctica, of course. I'm a little surprised I haven't had any visitors from Alaska either.

Note: MapLoco and Feedjit don't pick up everybody so all of the above is "representative" as opposed to hard data.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

February Wrap-Up/March Theme

February's relationships theme turned out pretty well. I had no trouble sticking to the theme and read eight books about love, sex, and romance. I really liked a few, particularly Superstud, Candy Girl, and Exes & Ohs. The only real disappointment was Sugarbabe.

In the spirit of Lent, the theme for March is religion (a nice contrast to last month's strippers and whores, don't you think?). I also wanted to make this a month-long reflection on my beliefs. Unfortunately, most of that dialog takes place inside my head and never gets typed.

I had written a few hundred words about my past and present feelings about religion, but I don't feel like posting it now. Maybe some other time, maybe never. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman

Before delving into or even revealing March's theme, here is another book I finished recently.

I read this book aloud to my wife, and we both enjoyed reminiscing about these favorite foods and the advertising etched into our brains. Wyman tells the stories behind several dozen venerable products from Hamburger Helper (still a staple at our house) to Reddi-wip to Minute Maid Orange Juice to Ore-Ida Tater Tots. She explains each item's place in processed food industry history, an industry that didn't even exist until recently. Plentiful color photos show packaging and advertising through the years, and sidebars offer interesting tidbits including alternative uses for Potato Buds, Coffee-mate Non-Dairy Creamer, and 24-ounce Dinty Moore Beef Stew cans. Better Than Homemade is fun and informative.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Nothing's Sacred

Did the Chicago Sun-Times publish a risque headline... about the pope?
Gays size up new pope
Yep, they sure did.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin by Paul Feig

Yikes, the month is almost half over and I'm still posting February reviews. This is the last.

Superstud, my final relationships-themed selection for February, was a great way to end the month. This memoir is a hilarious tale of sexual, um, whatever is the opposite of bravado.

Feig is best known as the creator of Freaks and Geeks. He's also known for acting in and directing a bunch of TV shows and movies. I haven't seen any of them and had no idea who he was when I bought the book. In Superstud, he begins with "the rope feeling", when he gets turned on climbing the rope in gym class, and he ends with "The Book of Miracles"—formatted like a book of the Bible—wherein he loses his virginity. In between, he experiences a few thrills and endures lots of awkward discomfort and disappointment.

Sad to say, this book really hit home for me. Feig and I shared so many anxieties, neuroses, and misguided ideas about dating that sometimes it felt like I was reading my own diary. If you were a "bad boy" who got laid before he could drive or a jock who could nail a cheerleader as easily as snapping his fingers, this book is not for you. But if you were a socially inept "nice guy", you'll probably love it.

 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oh, Shit.

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting today that the nefarious Koch brothers, enemy to all that is progressive, worker-friendly, and beautiful in the world, are interested in buying the Chicago Tribune.

If that happens, I will cancel my Tribune subscription. I can get my Sunday coupons online instead. Fuck those sons of bitches (sons of a bitch?). But then Rupert Murdoch is also interested*. And even without them, the Trib's recently implemented digital subscription model irritates me, along with the audio ads that scream out of my phone at inopportune moments. It looks like my 30-odd years of reading the once-venerable Tribune are coming to an end soon.


* Murdoch would be better than the Kochs. Murdoch uses sensationalism to sell newspapers, and everyone expects it and knows it's bullshit. But the Kochs would probably be more subtle, gently shading, twisting, and slanting the truth to promote their pro-oil, pro-wealthy, anti-worker agenda.

Chili

Why is it that chili tastes so great when you're drinking?

Chili sober: Pretty good.

Chili drunk: Awesome!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Book of Bad: Stuff You Should Know Unless You're a Pussy by Christopher Lee Barish

While I was reading all those books about relationships in February, this is the book I was reading aloud to my wife.

Barish gives instructions for 34 acts of dubious morality and legality. Christian Kunze provides amusing and helpful illustrations for each one. Some of the life lessons contained within include how to make a Molotov cocktail, how to get out of jury duty, how to fake your own death, how to mask marijuana smoke, and how to rob a bank. With only a few pages devoted to each skill, some are more completely or usefully explained than others, but this book at least offers a good start down the road to Hell.

As a bonus, Barish recounts a few tales of little-known but accomplished bad guys and gals. One example is Chad Storey, who took siphoning gas to a new level by installing an elaborate system activated by a dashboard switch so he could sit comfortably inside as another vehicle's gas was pumped into his tank.

The Book of Bad is fun to read and explains some things you've always wondered about like how to pass a polygraph test or how to count cards in blackjack. I don't think I'd actually use it as a guidebook, but there is some practical advice that anyone can use. For example, to get free food, sign up for e-mails at chain restaurant websites and give different birth dates so you get free birthday meal coupons throughout the year. After all, they don't validate your birth date, they just send you a coupon whenever you say it's your birthday.

The Natural Laws of Good Luck: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage by Ellen Graf

After reading about dating, dancing, and whoring, I figured I should read something about marriage, too. This book isn't my type, and I can't remember why I bought it. I couldn't even remember where—I could have sworn it was at Frugal Muse but it has a label from After-words so I must be wrong. Plus it was $11.50 used, and normally when I take a chance on a book it's really cheap. My best guess is either I was in an adventurous mood or I was desperate to find something to buy.

Whatever the circumstances, I'm glad I bought and read The Natural Laws of Good Luck. I enjoyed it, and besides, did I really want to read yet another New York City dating memoir instead? (I didn't totally get away from New York, though; this book is set upstate.)

Graf is a divorced mother of five who is just a couple of years from being an empty-nester when a neighbor comes to see her with a proposition. She tells Graf that it isn't good to be alone and that her brother in China is also alone. Soon after, Graf takes the incredible leap of faith to travel to China to meet and marry this man. Her husband Lu Zhong-hua gives up life as a successful businessman in China to marry a woman he just met and start over in America.

The book chronicles their first few years as they adjust to each other and their cultural differences. They go through a lot together, with Graf sharing stories of frustration, fun, sadness, and joy along with medical, financial, and parenting challenges. Remembering what it was like for me to adjust to living with my wife, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be if we had grown up in different worlds and barely shared a language.

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex edited by David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin, Jr.

When I promised you strippers, I also promised you hookers. This collection of about 90 short stories and poems covers a broad range of issues related to the work and lives of sex workers (a few stories are about dancers instead of prostitutes). Most are first-person, the focus being on experiences rather than hard information. It found its way onto my Amazon wishlist a few years ago, and I was excited to find a copy at Borders during the first bankruptcy sale (can't remember which location). I hadn't heard of most contributors with the notable exceptions of Xaviera Hollander and Nina Hartley.

I have a hard time getting into anthologies. I find the changes in voice to be disruptive and it takes 75-100 pages for me to adjust. Most of this book is interesting, though Sterry's author introductions can be long-winded. Its weakest chapter is "The SAGE Stories". I understand that Sterry is proud of the writers in the program he taught at San Francisco's Standing Against Global Exploitation, but a lot of the subject matter in that chapter is irrelevant to the theme of the book. Just because something is written by a sex worker doesn't mean it belongs in a book about sex work.

This book even managed to be topical. Around the time I was reading it, I saw this story from the University of Illinois: "The creation of Annie Sprinkle: Porn star, ecosexual speaks on campus". I recognized the name; Sprinkle leads off the first chapter with "40 Reasons Why Whores Are My Heroes".

UPDATE 12/12/2013 - Sterry released a sequel, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks: Professionals & Their Clients Writing about Each Other, about a month after I wrote this review. See Amazon links below.

 

Printer Conspiracy

I'm convinced there is a conspiracy among the world's printers to put words in smaller point sizes just so I can't read them. Especially coupon expiration dates.

I mean, it couldn't be that my eyesight is getting worse as I get older.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Exes & Ohs: A Downtown Girl's (Mostly Awkward) Tales of Love, Lust, Revenge, and a Little Facebook Stalking by Shallon Lester

Now that March is one-third over, I'd better finish my book reviews from February's "relationships" theme!

Remember when I said it seems like every woman in New York City writes a dating memoir? Well, here is another one, the funniest of the micro-genre that I've read.

Lester starred in a short-lived reality show on MTV called Downtown Girls that I haven't seen and hadn't even heard of before I read the author page. When I bought this book, I naively thought the cover was illustrated with colorful circles or bubbles, like "O"s (or Ohs). It wasn't until I started reading that I realized the bubbles are actually condoms! Lester did some promotional work for Trojan, and they rewarded her with lots and lots of free samples.

Anyway, this is a fun collection of dating stories guaranteed to make you laugh. Subject matter includes "love, loss, revenge, hockey, condoms, car thieves, hookers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many, many men." And Lester swears the stories are all true.

What's going on at BikingIllinois.com this week?

This week visitors to BikingIllinois.com have doubled for no apparent reason. All I can tell from my SiteAnalytics data is that people are going to the homepage, most likely directly instead of through a search engine or other web page (maybe clicking on a link sent via e-mail?). Then according to Feedjit they are clicking on the link to my blog for "Past Events and Other Biking Illinois-related News" (which takes them to the page for posts labeled "Biking Illinois"). Feedjit also says they are coming from all over the world (four five continents).

This is quite intriguing to me. I am baffled as to why the world is suddenly taking an interest in Biking Illinois, and especially why everyone is coming to my blog from there (hardly anyone did so in the past).

If you came here that way, please leave a comment to explain.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

I'm Never Home

For some reason, my EarthLink DSL often shows up as St. Paul, MN. That means I get "targeted" advertising that is totally irrelevant to me, such as "The Twin Cities' best carpet cleaners". I don't know how someone in the country's third largest city gets routed 500 miles away, but whatever. Maybe EarthLink has a data center there.

When I'm out and about, I expect Verizon to be more aware of my location. And yet tonight as I dine downtown, my phone says I'm in Camby, IN. I didn't even know where that was until I looked it up. It's near Indianapolis. Apparently even when I'm in the heart of Chicago, my data is still bouncing all over the Midwest.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

New Hobby

Getting loaded and going downtown. What could go wrong?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps: How We're Different and What to Do About It by Allan and Barbara Pease

Sorry, still reviewing a backlog of books from February...

Since February's theme is "relationships" I had to read at least one book categorized as such. I can't say I've read many books in the "family & relationships" self-help genre; this may be the first (15 years ago my neighbors dumped their copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus on me when they moved to New York, but I never read it).

I didn't like the opening chapters. The authors cover a lot of material without much background, like an executive summary. I'm more accustomed to books that describe the research or experiments leading to conclusions rather than a Cliffs Notes of findings. Those chapters also give the impression that women's brains are great and men are stupid (I don't think the authors intended for readers to think so... or maybe Mrs. Pease wrote those chapters!). After all the male-brain bashing, I was disappointed when their 30-question test said my brain is definitely "masculine." Later chapters are more my style and provide a bit more research background. My gripes about this book are probably due to my unfamiliarity with the genre. Its target audience probably gobbles this stuff up without thinking about what is missing.

The Peases rely heavily on evolutionary psychology, i.e., the differences between men and women date back to their roles as lunch chaser and nest defender, respectively. I've read a few books in that field so many of the concepts, especially in the early chapters, weren't new to me. What I found most interesting were the parts about hormones. For example, testosterone improves math skills (to a point), and women with PMS (when testosterone levels are low) do worse on math tests. Also homosexuality appears to be influenced by how much testosterone is delivered to the womb at a critical early stage of pregnancy.

I also learned in this book that women do not "beer goggle" like men do—if a woman rates a guy as a five at 7 PM, he is still a five at midnight regardless of her alcohol consumption. I guess the role of alcohol isn't to make her think he is more attractive, just to make her not care that he isn't.